Within a matter of weeks, and amid a slew of gun-related deaths, D.C. officials enacted emergency gun legislation banning the use of “ghost guns” — untraceable and undetectable firearms often created from 3D printing and the assembly of various parts.
Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) signed the Ghost Guns Prohibition Emergency Amendment Act last Wednesday, just days after the D.C. Council overwhelmingly approved the legislation. Up until its expiration date of June 9, the bill — championed by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) — prohibits the issuance of a certificate for ghost guns, and amends firearm control laws to penalize the possession of such weapons.
“By enacting this legislation we are sending a simple message: If you play a role in profiting from bloodshed in our community, you will be held accountable. We have seen an alarming increase in the number of ghost guns being used in D.C., and we knew it was important to act quickly,” Bowser said in a statement crediting the Giffords Law Center, Moms Demand Action, and Everytown for Gun Safety for their support.
“Only by working together can we get illegal guns off our streets and build safer neighborhoods,” she added. “Any gun in the wrong hands is a danger to our community. Any person using an illegal gun in our neighborhoods is a danger to our community.”
For years, Sacramento, California, has served as a hub for ghost guns, a brand of firearm protected by federal law via what officials in the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives describe as a loophole. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense found itself in a case reaching the Supreme Court case after attempting to confiscate machines from Defense Distributed, the company that found instant fame as a 3D-gun printing entity.
Since then, several U.S. cities, including the District, have struggled to tackle this issue. While the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) had only recovered three ghost guns in 2017, the amount of manufactured handguns, rifles and AR-15s found between 2018 and 2019 entered the hundreds and more than tripled.
Within the first six weeks of the new year, MPD officials said they’ve found nearly 30 ghost guns.
The D.C. Council introduced the Ghost Guns Prohibition Emergency Amendment Act earlier this month alongside the Extreme Risk Protection Order Implementation Working Group Emergency Amendment Act, through which government officials and community groups would implement the “red flag” law.
In existence since 2018, the “red flag” law allows concerned family members, mental health professionals, and law enforcement officials to engage the D.C. Superior Court in removing firearms from those deemed a danger to themselves and others.
These developments arise as various pockets of the District are reeling from gun violence. As of Sunday, the District has recorded 31 homicides, on par with the amount documented by MPD about the same time last year. Since the beginning of this year, instances of assault with a deadly weapon have increased by five percent. Some of the most recent gun deaths to rock the District include that involving Malachi Lukes, a young man from the Shaw area who was shot and killed just days before his 14th birthday.
Allen, the D.C. Council Judiciary Committee chair whose constituency includes much of Shaw, has been on record saying that quelling violence in the District would require much more than police action.
“These guns attempt to circumvent the hard-fought and carefully considered gun safety laws of the District of Columbia,” Allen said. “We know they are used in violent crimes. They’re not for hobbyists or collectors. They’re being used for one purpose: to inflict harm in our communities.”